After reading an article from “A.A.R.P-The Magazine” about an epidemic of chronic loneliness in our country, I was compelled to share this information with all of you. “This affliction”, experts tell us, “is an ever-present, self-perpetuating condition that pushes people away from relationships that sustain us and make us happy.”
In reading this piece I, being in the assisted living industry and holding the Assistant Administrator position at The Continental at St. Joseph’s in Centerville, Iowa, was excited to hear that age does make a difference with chronic loneliness: “Those who said they are suffering most are not the oldest among us, but rather adults in their 40s and 50s.” Good news for me, not so much for the estimated 44 million adults over age 45 who suffer from it. Aside from age, loneliness was equally represented in those surveyed, regardless of race, gender, or education levels.
Not only is chronic loneliness undesirable, there is also evidence that it significantly increases chances of diabetes, sleep disorders and other potentially life threatening problems and an increased risk of high blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, weakened immune systems and Alzheimer’s disease.
So now that you’re aware of what chronic loneliness is and why it’s no good, what can we do to combat it and, in turn, live a healthier, more enjoyable life? While there”s no easy cure, here are some steps that we encourage at The Continental at St. Joseph’s that may help to broaden your horizons:
• Nurture your personal relationships.
• Don’t substitute electronic communication for face-to-face contact.
• Take time to volunteer.
• Join a social club or community organization.
• Stay in touch with former colleagues after you retire.
• Educate yourself about loneliness.
Remember, everyone feels lonely from time to time, for example, after a divorce or loss of a loved one. This is situational and, although painful, is a temporary condition. Chronic loneliness, however, is a destructive cycle that can be difficult to reverse.
This information is vital as the 40-50 year olds surveyed in this study begin to enter their later years. Settings like an assisted living can help older adults battle such situations because of their non-isolating set-up. For example, residents of The Continental at St. Joseph’s are encouraged to eat meals together in the main dining room. Three meals a day are provided and there is a small fee for a room tray if there is no apparent need for one (i.e. illness). In addition, activities are built into each and every day; even when weather is bad there are plenty of people to socialize with and many opportunities to participate which are already planned for them. Likewise, older adults in their own homes may miss out on social interaction for days or weeks if weather is unfavorable.
So in closing, I’d like to remind those feeling lonely, whether temporary or chronic, that they need to start small. Realize that you are vulnerable and that it is not easy to rid yourself of this condition. You will have to work to keep loneliness at bay. You will have to say yes to an offer to participate even when you would rather not. But just like exercise is important for physical health, interacting with others is important for our mental health.
On that note, have a healthy and happy 2011!
Kristen Sheston is Assistant Administrator at The Continental at St. Joseph’s, Inc. in Centerville, Iowa. More information is available at www.thecontinentalatstjosephs.com.